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Jotiba Govindrao Phule

Mahatma Phule
Full name Jotiba Govindrao Phule
Born April 11, 1827
Died November 28, 1890
Era 19th century philosophy
Region India
School Indian philosophy
Main interests Ethics, religion, Humanism

Mahatma Jotiba Govindrao Phule (Marathi: जोतीबा गोविंदराव फुले) (April 11, 1827 — November 28, 1890), also known as Mahatma Jotiba Phule was an activist, thinker, social reformer, writer, philosopher, theologist, scholar, editor and revolutionary from Maharashtra, India in the nineteenth century. Jotiba Phule and his wife Savitribai Phule were the pioneer of women's education in India. His remarkable influence was apparent in fields like education, agriculture, caste system, women and widow upliftment and removal of untouchability. He is most known for his efforts to educate women and the lower castes as well as the masses. He, after educating his wife, opened the first school for girls in India in August 1848.

In September, 1873, Jotirao, along with his followers, formed the Satya Shodhak Samaj (Society of Seekers of Truth) with Jotirao with the main objective of the organisation as to liberate the Bahujans, Shudras and Ati-Shudras and to prevent them from 'exploitations' and 'artocites' created by the Brahmins. For his fight to attain equal rights for peasants and the lower caste and his contribution to the field of education, he is regarded as one of the most important figures in Social Reform Movement in Maharashtra. Dhananjay Keer, his biographer, rightly notes him as "the father of Indian social revolution".[1]


Early life

Jotirao Govindrao Phule was born in Satara district of Maharastra in a family belonging to mali caste, a caste perceived to be inferior caste by certain sections of the society. His father, Govindrao, was a vegetable vendor. His mother died when he was 9 months old. After completing his primary education Jotirao had to leave school and help his father by working on the family's farm. He was married at the age of 12. His intelligence was recognised by a Muslim and a Christian neighbor, who persuaded his father to allow Jotirao to attend the local Scottish Mission's High School, which he completed in 1847. The turning point in Jotiba's life was in year 1848, when he was insulted by family members of his Maratha friend, a bridegroom for his participation in the marriage procession, an auspicious occasion. Jotiba was suddenly facing the divide created by the caste system.[2] Influenced by Thomas Paine books Rights of Man (1791), Phule developed a keen sense of social justice, becoming passionately critical of the Indian caste system. He argued that education of women and the lower castes was a vital priority in addressing social inequalities.

Satyashodhak Samaj

On 24 September 1874, Jotirao formed 'Satya Shodhak Samaj' (Society of Seekers of Truth) with himself as its first president and treasurer. The main objectives of the organisation were to liberate the Shudras and Ati Shudras and to prevent their 'exploitation' by the upper caste like ruling caste Maraths. Through this SatyaShodhak Samaj, Jotirao refused to regard the Vedas as sacrosanct. He opposed idolatry and denounced the chaturvarnya system (the caste system). SatyaShodhak Samaj propounded the spread of rational thinking and rejected the need for a Brahman priestly class as educational and religious leaders.


Shahu IV of Kolhapur helped Satya Shodhak Samaj

When Phule established the SatyaShodhak Samaj, Savitribai became the head of the women's section which included ninety female members[citation needed]. Moreover, she worked tirelessly as a school teacher for girls. Deenbandhu publication, the mouthpiece of the Satya Shodhak Samaj, played an important role in SatyaShodhak Samaj’s movement. After Jotiba's death in 1890 his spirited followers went on spreading the movement to the remotest parts of Maharashtra. Shahu Maharaj, the ruler of Kolhapur princely state, gave a lot of financial and moral support to Satya Shodhak Samaj. In its new incarnation party carried on the work of superstition removal vigorously.

Jotiba firmly believed that if you want to create a new social system based on freedom, equality, brotherhood, human dignity, economic justice and value devoid of exploitation, you will have to overthrow the old, unequal and exploitative social system and the values on which it is based. Knowing this well, Jotiba attacked blind faith and faith in what is given in religious books and the so-called god's words. He tore to pieces the misleading myths that were ruling over the minds of women, shudras and ati-shudras. Yielding to god or fate, astrology and other such rituals, sacredness, god-men, etc. was deemed irrational and absurd.[citation needed]

He also led campaigns to remove the economic and social handicaps that breed blind faith among women, shudras and ati-shudras. Jotiba subjected religious texts and religious behavior to the tests of rationalism. He characterised this faith as outwardly religious but in essence politically motivated movements. He accused them of upholding the teachings of religion and refusing to rationally analyse religious teachings. He maintained that at the root of all calamities was the blind faith that religious books were created or inspired by god. Therefore, Phule wanted to abolish this blind faith in the first instance. All established religious and priestly classes find this blind faith useful for their purposes and they try their best to defend it. He questions " if there is only one God, who created the whole mankind, why did he write the Vedas only in Sanskrit language despite his anxiety for the welfare of the whole mankind? What about the welfare of those who do not understand this language?" Phule concludes that it is untenable to say that religious texts were God-created. To believe so is only ignorance and prejudice. All religions and their religious texts are man-made and they represent the selfish interest of the classes, which are trying to pursue and protect their selfish ends by constructing such books. Phule was the only sociologist and humanist in his time that could put forth such bold ideas. In his view, every religious book is a product of its time and the truths it contains have no permanent and universal validity. Again these texts can never be free from the prejudices and the selfishness of the authors of such books.[citation needed]

Phule believed in overthrowing the social system in which man has been deliberately made dependent on others, illiterate, ignorant and poor, with a view to exploiting him. To him blind faith eradication formed part of a broad socioeconomic transformation. This was his strategy for ending exploitation of human beings. Mere advice, education and alternative ways of living are not enough, unless the economic framework of exploitation comes to an end.[citation needed]


Attack on the sanctity of Vedas

Jyotirao Phule's critique of the caste system began with his attack on the Vedas, the most fundamental texts of Hinduism. He considered Vedas as 'idle fantasies' as 'palpably absurd legends'. He considered Vedas a 'form of false consciousness'. [3]

Alternate religion: closer to Deism

Though his akhandas were based on the abhangs of Hindu saint Tukaram[4], the attack on the Vedas precludes any connection with Bhakti movement which, despite questioning the Brahminical orthodoxy, still affirmed the sanctity of Vedas [5] or other Hindu texts such as Bhagvad Gita , etc as true revelations.[6] In fact Phule went on to explicitly reject any connection with the poet-saints of Varkari [7] which was very much a part of Bhakti movement . [8]

Quite opposed to rekindling of devotional aspects of Hindu scriptures, as advocated by Bhakti poet-saints like Chaitanya Mahaprabhu, Ramanuja , Vedanta Desika, Ramananda,etc, Phule instead called for creation of an alternate theology.[7] In this new parallel faith he coined a new name for God as 'Nirmik' rougly translating as 'Creator'. He rejected all names of God which had roots in the accepted Hindu scriptures. [9][10]

Despite rejecting Hinduism and not accepting any of the other accepted faiths of his time, Phule essentially remained a deist [10] and believed that the true inhabitants of Bharat believed in God .[11] He also believed that the Brahmins were outsiders to Hinduism. This was also the view spoken by Keshavarao Jehde.[12]

Merger into Congress party

After Jotiba's death in 1890, there was a period of lull, when the flame lit by Jotiba waned. The Satya Shodhak Samaj movement was totally a social movement and nothing to do with the politics, but the members of Satya Shodhak Samaj dissolved Satya Shodhak Samaj and merged it with Congress party in 1930.

Phule had a favourable opinion about the British Rule in India at least from the point of view of introducing modern notions of justice and equality in Indian society and taking India into the future.

Social activism

He was assisted in his work by his wife, Savitribai Phule, and together they started the first school for girls in India in 1848, for which he was forced to leave his home. He initiated widow-remarriage and started a home for upper caste widows in 1854, as well as a home for new-born infants to prevent female infanticide. Phule tried to eliminate the stigma of social Untouchability surrounding the lower castes by opening his house and the use of his water-well to the members of the lower castes.

He formed Satya Shodhak Samaj (Society of Seekers of Truth) on September 24, 1873, a group whose main aim was to liberate the social Shudra and Untouchables castes from exploitation and oppression.

Phule was a member of Pune municipality from 1876 to 1882.

Connection with women activists

Some of India's first modern feminists were closely associated with Phule, including his wife Savitribai Phule; Pandita Ramabai, a Brahmin woman who made waves in the atmosphere of liberal reformism; Tarabai Shinde, the non-brahmin author of a fiery tract on gender inequality which was largely ignored at the time but has recently become well-known; and Muktabai, a fourteen-year-old pupil in Phule’s school, whose essay on the social oppression of the Mang and Mahar castes is also now justly famous.



  • Vidyevina mati geli; mativina neeti geli; neetivina gati geli; gativina vitta gele;

vittavina shudra khachale; itke anartha eka avidyene kele.

(Lack of education leads to lack of wisdom, which leads to lack of morals, which leads to lack of progress, which leads to lack of money, which leads to the oppression of the lower classes. See what state of the society one lack of education can cause!)


Krantisurya Phule has many followers. Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar, the first minister of law of Republic India and the architect of Indian Constitution was inspired by his noble work towards humanity. One among those is Hon. Minister Of Maharashtra Chhagan Bhujbal founder of Mahatma Fule Samata Parishad, an organisation works for social upliftment of dalits and OBCs and Telugu actor Chiranjeevi, who started a political party and stated that he is very much inspired by the work done by Phule especially creating social harmony.

Published works

His famous published works are[13]

  • Tritiya Ratna, 1855
  • Brahmananche Kasab,1869
  • Powada : Chatrapati Shivajiraje Bhosle Yancha, [English: Life Of Shivaji, In Poetical Metre],June 1869
  • Powada: Vidyakhatyatil Brahman Pantoji, June 1869
  • Manav Mahammand (Muhammad) (Abhang)
  • Gulamgiri [full name in English: Slavery: In The Civilized British Government Under The Clock Of Brahmanism],1873
  • Shetkarayacha Aasud (Cultivator's Whipcord), July 1883
  • Satsar Ank 1, June 1885
  • Satsar Ank 2, October 1885
  • Ishara, October 1885
  • Gramjoshya sambhandi jahir kabhar, (1886)
  • Satyashodhak Samajokt Mangalashtakasah Sarva Puja-vidhi, 1887
  • Sarvajanik Satya Dharma Poostak, April 1889
  • Sarvajanic Satya Dharmapustak, 1891
  • Akhandadi Kavyarachana
  • Asprashyanchi Kaifiyat


  1. ^ Keer, Dhananjay (1997). Mahatma Jotirao Phooley: father of the Indian social revolution. Popular Prakashan. ISBN 9788171540662. 
  2. ^ Savitri Bai Phule
  3. ^ Aryans, Jews, Brahmins: Theorizing Authority Through Myths of Identity, pp 149, By Dorothy Matilda Figueira, Published by SUNY Press, 2002
  4. ^ Culture And The Making Of Identity In Contemporary India By Kamala Ganesh, Usha Thakkar
  5. ^ "The sources of the pan- Indian bhakti movement (7lh-17thC AD) can be easily traced to the Vedas, the two epics — the Ramayana and the Mahabharata" The Book Review, pp 29, Published by C. Chari for Perspective Publications, 2002, Original from the University of Virginia
  6. ^ "Among all the texts that preach bhakti to Visnu, the Bhagavata Purana has probably been even more influential than the Bhagvad Gita....Bhagvata Purana still regards Vedas as sacred, but when Vedic learning and rites conflict with Bhakti they become obstacles to liberation." The Hindu World, pp 192, Sushil Mittal, G. R. Thursby, Contributor Sushil Mittal, G. R. Thursby, Routledge, 2004
  7. ^ a b "In this program Phule included the creation of parallel theocracy which Shahu and other Maratha elites expoited to their own advantage.....Phule had rejected the poet-saints as ritualistic, self-deprecating, renunciators who were against "this-worldly" orientation. In the absence of a direct dialogue with the masses for whom he cared and on whose behalf he spoke Phule was not able to come to grips with the dialectic of tradition of which Varkari poets had continued to be a source of consolation without inspiring the poor to rise, politically, against oppression. He went to the extent of rejecting the title of the abhang for his poetic form because it was mainly used by Varkari poets. In this total rejection of Varkari impulse based on conventional interpretations of Varkari texts and practices, he foreshadowed the interpretation of bhakti and chitvilas that Tilak later used in his debate against Ranade's intellectuals." Language and Society: Steps Towards an Integrated Theory, pp 41, By Jayant Lele, R. Singh, Contributor R. Singh, Published by BRILL, 1989, ISBN 9004087893, 9789004087897
  8. ^ " Therefore the Vitthalas are a Vaishnavite bhakti cult. The bhakti devotional doctrine of the Vitthalas is based on a succession of writers and poets...Though Namdev wrote that pilgrimage is not necessary, an annual pilgrimage to Pandharpur is a central part of the practice of the cult, with devotional singing of hymns and prayers on behalf of Tukaram to Vitthala. The importance of pilgrimage is reflected in the cult also being called Varkari Panth, 'pilgrim's path'." source:
  9. ^ "He creates an alternative religious practice for the varna-proletriat. He coins a new word for God. He translates the word as Nirmik (the creator)." Political Ideas in Modern India: Thematic Explorations, pp 113, By Vrajendra Raj Mehta, Thomas Pantham, Project of History of Indian Science, Philosophy, and Culture, Published by SAGE, 2006, ISBN 0761934200, 9780761934202
  10. ^ a b "Keeping company with Christian missionaries, Phule came to accept the deist conception of the universe wherein God — Phule calls him Nirmik-- after creating the world, no longer intervenes, allowing the world to operate according the laws of reason." Untouchable: Dalits in Modern India, pp 48, S. M. Michael, Published by Lynne Rienner Publishers, 1999
  11. ^ P. 13 "Positive discrimination and the transformation of caste in India" By Christophe Jaffrelot
  12. ^ P. 16 "Positive discrimination and the transformation of caste in India" By Christophe Jaffrelot
  13. ^

External links & Writings

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